The Mutual Exclusivity of Wanting versus Doing

The Mutual Exclusivity of Wanting versus Doing

Wanting versus Doing

SUMMARY: The deep needs and desires of my psyche are the ultimate criteria for assessing my current state of happiness, but they can also get in the way of actually doing things. In times of battle, they must be suppressed for a time. While my desires are not life-or-death by any stretch of the imagination, they are still pretty damn important to ME. Dreams (and notes) follow. Having spent almost $100 on printer ink so I could finally print out the Dream Context Tracker, I was excited about FINALLY embarking on my journey toward dream fulfillment. As I stared at the form, however, I realized I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to put in that first box. It was daunting! It was scary! My brow furrowed, wondering if I had somehow missed something in its design. I decided to switch modes and do some sketching on index cards to see if I could find the blockage.


The State of DaveI set up shop at Starbucks and took out my pack of white index cards. Doodling is a relatively new habit for me, as I haven’t thought of myself as someone who could draw the way my buddies can. The key insight is that doodling is thinking on paper, which tends to produce different results than thinking in the dark. Try it: it’s not about producing a finished image; it’s about see what comes out, and what you see in it. The first card I made started with a triangle at the top (representing aspiration) and a square at the bottom (representing where I’m stuck). At the top of the card I wrote these words:

  1. Excellence. Design. Product. Book.

  2. Authorship. Ownership. Recognition.

This wasn’t all that helpful. So I started playing with the block at the bottom. I felt compelled to weather it, because I was tired of staring at it. What would I need to get from this stumpy brick to the soaring heights of my aspirations? I started drawing what stuff I had: the ability to design, create web pages, and script interactivity. Interestingly, it was drawn as an unorderly pile of things, which I suppose reflects my attitude toward them as very basic elements that I am not focused on at the moment. On the other side of the card, I drew a more regular pile of bricks, thinking this would be related to the stuff I have accrued over the years. I had to squeeze in the word PRODUCTIVITY, and to my delight it became a column from which I could hang indicators of what I have done. And because I actively am blogging, I drew a phonograph with the word VOICE coming out of it; this is an asset too! I was struck how this side seemed more organized, though I didn’t plan it that way. The last asset that came to mind, no pun intended, was my intellect. I drew it as a floating brain-blimp, because I sometimes feel like I’m a floating head when I’m in this kind of analysis mode. As the brain was responsible for building my assets up, I tethered it like a balloon to each column, and noticed something interesting: it’s in the way, almost, of a straight shot from the ground to the prized triangle of ambition. I almost wish that the brain wasn’t there sometimes, as it has a tendency to interject its fine opinions just before I’m about to do something, passive-aggressively suggesting that there are more optimal ways to go about such a task. Sometimes I wish it would just shut the hell up.

Thinking Considered

I shouldn’t blame myself, though, for thinking before acting. I happened to read earlier, however, about the difference between extraversion and introversion, and was struck by the broad implications of a simple pattern difference between extraverts and introverts like myself:

  • extraverts: do, reflect, do
  • introverts: reflect, do, reflect

My understanding (though keep in mind that I’m not a psychologist) is that extraverts gain energy from doing, and reflection is drains energy. Put an extraverted person in a room by himself, and watch him go crazy from boredom. Introverts, by comparison, gain energy from reflection, and it’s the doing that’s difficult. You can make the generalization that doing = being outside in the world, and reflecting = being inside your head. I know that doing anything outside in the world, including socializing with friends, has an energy cost. I will enjoy myself, but regardless there is a price: I need alone time to process and recharge. It follows that for me to do anything in the first place, I need to charge up by doing a lot of thinking, particularly if the task at hand is unfamiliar. It’s especially challenging if the task requires dealing with people I don’t know. So, it looks like I’m procrastinating because, by comparison to the 60-70% majority of extraverts who gain energy by acting first, I am procrastinating. Our society tends to put a lot of emphasis on doing first and asking questions later, there’s an implication that the opposite approach is wrong. However, if it is the way that we introverts get going, I shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Finding Motivation

What do you want? What do you need?With that out of the way, I felt better, but still didn’t know what I was going to put in the box on my Dream Context Tracker Form. So I took the problem outside of myself and pretended I was talking to someone else in the same bind. There are two questions: what do you want? what do you need? The thoughts that came to me were highly personal and emotional, and so I will keep the specifics to myself. I will say, though, that they were not simple desires to be granted overnight. Because of this, they did not provide meaningful focus because they did not specify a useful direction for exploration. Instead, they just described how I wanted to feel, and how I would recognize that I had attained it. Very difficult to write a specification for. If this was a client situation, I would have to start suggesting a lot of different ideas and influences to try to narrow down the area of interest. I could use external resources (magazines, self-help books, other blogs) but I always try to find the answer inside myself first. I believed in this case that it was there, somewhere. So, back to the problem. Perhaps the direction was implicit in what I had already done? According to the card I’d just drawn, I had the ability to design things, the ability to share ideas through words and images, and a floating brain. I could certainly construct some kind of device, but I still had no way of knowing if it was the right thing. As I applied my dream criteria to each path I could take, none of it resonated strongly. Sure, they were all possibilities, but none of them felt just right. Impasse. So I gave up and skipped to the next card.

What can I DO?

This may be a male trait, but when I’m impatient I want to know what to do. Since I’m an introvert, I also want to know why I’m doing it too. This can sometimes be a source of delay, so years ago I stole a page from the Extravert Playbook: doing first and observing later often provides new data that can shed light on a problem. What do DO?So I acknowledged this by draw a massive DO on the next index card, which dominating the 3×5″ space with its weight and mass. But again, I was stuck…I didn’t know WHAT to do. How could I choose something to do that was not completely arbitrary? This was frustrating, but the voice of reason interjected: any of the arbitrary things I chose would take me a little closer to my goals. If I make something that is excellent, for example, it contributes directly to my dream of pursing excellence itself. If I write a blog post, I’m creating content for a possible book. Anything I make that I attach my name to helps create, to borrow a phrase from Paulo Coelho, my own personal legend. So what was getting in the way? The only thing getting in my way, I realized, was my own desire! Instead of driving me positively toward my goal, the twin terrors of NEED and WANT were back seat drivers, feeling entitled to interject their doubts about the way we were going and how we were doing it. It reminded me of the time I watched a number of executives fret about “losing the light” for a commercial that was being shot, while the camera crew sat around and drank coffee for an hour. The executives (and myself, I must admit) gaped in wonder when the sky had darkened just enough to show its most beautiful colors, which balanced perfectly with the portable lighting the crew had already rigged. A few minutes later, the shot was in the can, and we non-camera people learned something important about not being a pain in the ass. The ability to suppress one’s deep desires, wants, and needs for a time, I think, is one more key to unlocking one’s ability to focus. It seems obvious in retrospect: put your misgivings out of your mind and focus on what you’re doing, which is advice as old as the hills. For those of us, however, that are trying to build our own way forward, this advice is associated with the pain of being under the yoke of someone else’s crappy system. We forget that we are just as capable of giving bad advice to ourselves, as anyone else.

The Revised Approach

I believe there are TWO “What I Want/What I Need” cards:

  • The Dream Card: The first Want/Need card contains our deepest-most wants and desires; it’s the dreamy side of us that is looking for the perfect and sublime. This is the card that you can associate with perfectionism. Use this card paired with active dreaming, imagining to the fullest extent of your ability to see the end result. Take it out to remind you why you’re doing this, after you’ve made some progress and are taking a rest. However, do not mistake it for the card that will get you to your destination. It’s a compass, not a vehicle. It provides no clues about how to get from here to there. It’s a picture, nothing more.

  • The Task Card: This is the more practical aspect of the dream, which is based on your intellect understanding what needs to be done to move closer to the dream, which is now safely out of the way. You can think of “want” as the strategic goal, and “need” as the tactical goal. Know that ANYTHING you can come up with is likely to move you forward, so if it makes sense given your available resources and anticipated needs, go for it. Relax about the dream…it’s safely tucked away in your heart, available at a moment’s notice. Just don’t take it out while you are on-the-move, because it will just complain about how we’re not there yet, ask when we can take a break and do something that seems more dream-like, and otherwise be a constant source of second-guessing. The dream card is the most important card, but its strength lies in telling you if you’re going in the right direction or not, whether you’re warmer or colder. Using it as an active guide, paradoxically, doesn’t work because it is perhaps too sensitive, jumping and leaping at every possibility and every setback.

First Draft Dream Context Tracker

Dream Context TrackerAnd now that I’ve made the distinction between these two types of dreams/goals, it’s a lot easier to just pick something that I know needs to be done. I scribbled down a long-dormant task, just one, and will use the sheet as a tracker this week. The sheet does not contain the entire dream; that I am keeping in my metaphorical wallet to look upon every once in a while, to remember why I’m doing all this stuff in the first place. I’m also going to try to do one thing at a time, for once, because I want to be extra mindful of it. We’ll see how it goes.


  1. Roy Francis 14 years ago

    Have you come across The Introvert Advantage by Marti Laney? I learned I was an introvert from an MBTI indicator I took several years ago, but only really recently really realized how differently I process things as an introvert (both the good and the bad). This book and a couple of others have really given me some clues in that regard. I’ve seen a lot of the same dynamic she talks about in here and in come of your other recent posts. The most difficult challenge for me about being an introvert has been getting the world around me to understand that I NEED that reflect/recharge time in order to maintain mental peace and make progress…

  2. Stampf 14 years ago

    Hello David,

    Regarding procrastination, have you considered the following: -hiring a (online) coach? -working on your personal vision

    I can’t help for the first part, but for the second part, there are lots of things that can help on Internet. To name a few: all things related to “Personal Branding”. GTD, which you investigated in the past if I remember right, with their horizons of focus and a bunch of others.

    The fact is (at least for me), that once you’ve discovered what you really want to be/do, you’re more motivated to getting it.

    For a methodology, I’d have a look at Appreciative Inquiry. Though it’s organization wide related, I feel it can be very useful on an individual level (there’s even some Appreciative Coaching!). Wikipedia will help you on this one, and I wouldn’t be surprised you could design a form out of AI (5D process: Define the wanted outcome, Discovery of time where you’ve been at your best, where’s you’ve already experienced (even if only some tiny bits) the desired outcome, Dream of what could be, Design of what should be then Deploy what will be).

    Just my 0.02€

  3. Author
    Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Roy: That’s a new book to me, thanks for mentioning it! I type as an INXX; the F/P and T/J scales are pretty even. I tend to flip/flop between INFP and INTJ, it seems, since I was a sophomore in college. Interestingly, it was the need to recharge that was the biggest insight for me as well recently; I hadn’t quantified just how much recharge time I needed.

    Stampf: I’ve never seriously considered hiring a coach because I’m enjoying the process of self-discovery. I suppose it might seem inefficient, and that I’m frustrated, but deep underneath it all it is satisfying to look deep within myself and try to find the answers. And then I write about what I found. The struggle is part of the journey.

    I’m aware of a lot of the things you’ve mentioned, though Appreciative Inquiry is new to me…I’ll definitely check that out! I tend to extract what insights are most intriguing to me from each system or recipe I’ve encountered. On personal branding, I am aligned with what Hugh McCleod has been writing about, along with the Clue Train Manifesto and a bit of Seth Godin. Processes I tend to ignore, because I find that they are largely the same: Define, Identify, Execute, Reflect within a particular problem domain. What’s useful to me is specific expertise and insight within the problem domain, not identification of the steps, and in any case the problem domain is ME: I’m my own best expert in that. A coach could perhaps guide me through this (and it could be useful), but I am already fearsomely good at it myself, and it takes a very strong and experienced person to stay on top of me. Otherwise, I end up coaching them.

    The approach that I think works for me is having competent and inspiring friends around me that are doing things, and challenging me. That’s inspiring to me, and it’s a primary focus for me right now to find and maintain a community of these people. As for process? The two things that matter are mindfulness and stick-to-it-ness. That’s it. A coach theoretically could help with that, but I’d rather have a friend give me a hard time about it :)

  4. jimmydddd 14 years ago

    David, Thanks as always. After reading this post, I came across the following sort-of comic on the creative process.

  5. Sue Thomas 14 years ago

    Hi, David, I’m finding your blogs extremely useful for reflection (!) on my own processes, thanks for posting!

    “…extraverts gain energy from doing, and reflection […] drains energy”

    I was told by a Myers-Briggs evaluator that an extravert (as “measured” by Myers-Briggs) gains energy from being around people, whereas a MB introvert gains energy (recharges) from being alone. (4th bullet in your referenced Wikipedia paragraph.) An introvert has to expend energy to be around (especially large groups of) people, and recharges when alone, as you said. But an introvert could be “doing” plenty when alone, not just reflecting. Planning and processing are also doing/actions, they’re just mental actions.

    What struck me most from this post, though, were your questions “What do you really want?” and “What do you really need?” If you added to those, “How will you feel when you get what you need?” you have the basics for an inner dialog described in “Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict,” by Tsultrim Allione. The approach is based on an approach from Tibet but the author adapted for Westerners.

    It is a combination dialog/meditation but could be done through journaling. I think it’s also pretty similar to NLP techniques where one mentally dialogs with “parts” of you that are “responsible” for something you want to gain insight on; in that case you add another question, “What are you doing for me; or what benefit are you providing?” Probably the “demon-feeding” would be better for the really hard stuff, like addictions. But procrastinating, distractability, etc., have some aspect of addiction, too.

  6. Stampf 14 years ago

    David, It looks like you’ve somewhat accepted that your friends be coaches to you (without them knowing it). That sounds good to me as well.

    I tend to follow you on the fact that I prefer to look inside me myself, as hard as this can be (am I afraid what someone else might find? May be :) Though, I’m also convince that Einstein quote is poerfully true: you can’t solve problems by the same level of thinking that created them. My own thinking has been created by me, how can I alone create something new out of old?

    But you’ve somewhat found an answer: friends!

    Keep the posts going !

  7. Michelle 12 years ago

    David, I love the Dream Content Tracker. Would you consider letting us download it? I’d like to share it with my son. He is an amazing combination of my husband-writer/artist/entrepeneur and myself-engineer/homemaker. Your templetes are wonderful. They really help bridge the gap between thinking and doing. I love the way they kept you checking back to the over all goal. It gives me structure for analytical self-assesment and focus for tasks to move forward. Thank you!!

  8. David 12 years ago

    I too would love to use this form!

  9. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    I’ll see if I can dig it up!

  10. Jeremy 11 years ago

    I would also love to see a copy of the Dream Content Tracker. This is also a continual problem I have, and your thoughts on it are already blowing away a lot of dust from the circular track I’ve worn chasing my tail.

  11. Author
    Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Jeremy: I think I’ll have to dust it off as a product for this month :)